Prunes are easier to pack as a snack, but are they healthier as well? What nutrition benefits are available from either form of plums? I find it interesting how the processing of our foods can change the nutritional value, quite often for the worse. Drying plums is a perfect example of a beneficial processing! Let’s find out more about this ancient fruit that may have originated in China and was cultivated by Alexander the Great in the Mediterranean regions around 65 B.C. Numbered research can be viewed in Dr. Mercola’s original article.
All prunes are plums, but the reverse is not always the case. The high sugar content in plums allows them to be dried without fermentation. Further, like all dried fruit, dried plums are dehydrated by natural drying, sun drying and the use of dehydrators. Medical Daily clarifies: “So if dried plums are just plums with the water taken out of them, why do they lower our colon cancer risk while fresh plums don’t? Not only does dried plum retain both soluble and insoluble fiber from its original form, but it also contains more sorbitol than fresh plums.”(5) Far more than just a tasty snack, these juicy little fruits are loaded with flavonoid polyphenolic antioxidants, primarily lutein and cryptoxanthin, as well as neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid, which help prevent cell damage from oxidation of lipid molecules. All cell membranes, including those in your brain, are mainly composed of fat-containing lipids, found to inhibit LDL cholesterol oxidation and making them a significant factor in preventing chronic disease.(6)
A Comparison of Nutritional Attributes Between Plums and Prunes – Plums contain 26 percent of the reference dietary intake (RDI) in vitamin C; 13 percent in vitamin K; and 11 percent in vitamin A, or retinol, as well as iron, potassium, thiamine, riboflavin and calcium, plus vitamin B6 and niacin to metabolize one of their most serious drawbacks: high natural sugar and carbohydrate content. As for prunes, a 1-cup serving gives you 87 percent of the RDI of vitamin K. The Guardian notes that soluble fiber helps slow down the absorption of glucose, which stabilizes blood sugar levels.(7)
Because prunes are a concentrated source of the nutrients and phytonutrients found in plums, their antioxidant potential is six times that of the fresh fruit. Prunes are also significantly higher in antioxidants than many other dried or fresh fruits or vegetables. Comparing the two, Healthy Eating observes: “Although most of the vitamin C in plums is destroyed during the drying process, prunes contain significantly higher concentrations of most of the other nutrients found in the fresh fruit. One cup of pitted prunes provides 129 percent, 36 percent, 27 percent and 9 percent of the daily recommendations for vitamin K, potassium, vitamin A and iron, respectively. Vitamin K is vital to the function of several proteins involved in blood coagulation, and vitamin A promotes healthy vision.”(8) These vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients have several benefits throughout your entire body, including your skin and improved vision due to the high iron, of which a deficiency can cause hair loss.
Osteoporosis affects both males and females, although more women than men. One study describes it as a “debilitating disorder” exacerbated by age: “As the demographic shift to a more aged population continues, a growing number of men and women will be afflicted with osteoporosis and a search for potential non-pharmacological alternative therapies for osteoporosis is of prime interest. Aside from existing drug therapies, certain lifestyle and nutritional factors are known to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Our [three]-month clinical trial indicated that the consumption of dried plum daily by postmenopausal women significantly increased serum markers of bone formation, total alkaline phosphatase, bone-specific alkaline phosphatase and insulin-like growth factor-I by 12, 6, and 17 percent, respectively.”(1)
Ironically, several drugs taken for osteoporosis taken for five years or more have been shown to actually cause esophageal cancer, according to an Oxford study.(2) However, in exploring non-pharmacological alternative therapies, researchers discovered dried plums may not only protect against, but reverse, the condition.
Fiber: Good for Gut Health and Colorectal Cancer Prevention – Bone health isn’t the only benefit of this oft-neglected fruit, though. Studies indicate dried plums can lower your risk of colon cancer. One factor that helps give plums and prunes such high marks in this category is fiber, crucial for moving food along smoothly through your colon for elimination, but also the natural chemicals sorbitol and isatin, both helpful for relieving constipation.
These three ingredients are why prunes have the (earned) reputation as a laxative. Media outlet Chatelaine notes that fiber: “Helps to … [optimize] cholesterol by soaking up excess bile in the intestine and then excreting it. Bile is made from cholesterol in the liver in order to digest fat. When the body excretes bile along with the fiber from prunes and plums, the liver must use cholesterol in the body to make more bile thereby lowering the amount in circulation in the body. Soluble fiber may also inhibit the amount of cholesterol manufactured by the liver in the first place.”(9)
Plums contain 2 grams of fiber in a 1-cup serving, which also helps produce beneficial gut microbiota. One of the big differences between fresh and dried plums is that the dried version contains 12 grams of fiber, which, compared to fresh plums, is about half of the RDI needed for an entire day (although I believe about 50 grams per 1,000 calories consumed is ideal). According to Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, prunes are even more effective than psyllium as a laxative.(10) Plus, the sorbitol pulls moisture into your digestive tract to help bring about a bowel movement.(11) That’s where its effectiveness as a colorectal cancer preventive comes in.
Additionally, prune juice is often loaded with high fructose corn syrup and, even if it’s not, will still be a significant source of fructose without the fiber benefits, so be aware that consuming the whole fruit is preferable.
Wrinkled is beautiful! Mixing up how we eat our plums not only adds variety to our meals, it adds health benefits as well. Enjoy!